Deadly blasts rock Baghdad's Shia districts
Motorcycle bomb that killed labourers waiting for work in Sadr City is followed by car bomb in Kazimiya
Agencies in Baghdad
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 5 January 2012 07.00 GMT
Twin deadly explosions have rocked the Sadr City suburb of Baghdad, pictured. Photograph: Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty
A wave of bombings in two mainly Shia districts of Baghdad has killed more than 26 people, according to police and hospital sources.
The first of the attacks came in Sadr City, in the north-east of the Iraqi capital. One bomb was planted on a parked motorcycle and the other was a roadside device, a police source told Reuters. At least 12 were killed.
"There was a group of day labourers gathered, waiting to be hired for work. Someone brought his small motorcycle and parked it nearby. A few minutes later it blew up, killed some people, wounded others and burned some cars," said a police officer at the scene.
A Reuters reporter said there were blood stains all around the site of the motorcycle bomb attack and that tarmac on the road had been ripped up by the explosion. Building tools and shoes were scattered across the site.
Half-an-hour later a roadside bomb exploded near a small tea shop in the same neighbourhood, killing one person. Police said they found and defused two other bombs.
Less than two hours later, two blasts struck the Shia district of Kazimiya in the north of the city, killing 14 people.
Officials said the blasts occurred almost simultaneously, with at least one caused by a car bomb. The casualties included at least 60 wounded.
Iraq is still plagued by a deadly Sunni Muslim insurgency and Shia militias nearly nine years after the US-led invasion.
Deadly attacks on Wednesday targeted the homes of police officers and a member of a government-allied militia. Those attacks, in the cities of Baqouba and Abu Ghraib outside Baghdad, killed four people, including two children, officials said.
"People have real fears that the cycle of violence might be revived in this country," said Tariq Annad, a government employee who lives near the site of the Sadr City attacks told the Associated Press.
A political crisis that erupted shortly after US troops withdrew from Iraq on 18 December has revived concerns about sectarian strife in Iraq, which teetered on the brink of civil war in 2006-07.
The Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, a Shia, angered rivals when he asked parliament to have his Sunni deputy, Saleh al-Mutlaq, removed and sought an arrest warrant for Iraq's Sunni vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi, on charges he ran death squads.
On Tuesday, members of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc boycotted Iraq's parliament and cabinet, accusing Maliki's bloc of governing alone in a power-sharing coalition that was supposed to ease sectarian tensions.
A spate of bombings that killed 72 people in mainly Shia areas of Baghdad a few days after the political crisis began have only deepened the fears of rising sectarian tensions.
The inclusion of Iraqiya in the governing coalition was widely considered crucial to prevent a return to the kind of sectarian violence that was unleashed after the 2003 invasion in which thousands were killed.
Many Sunnis have complained of being sidelined in the political process since Saddam Hussein was ousted and the majority Shia dominated the government.
Bombs targeting Shiites killed at least 72 in Iraq
By Dan Morse and Aziz Awlan, Updated: Thursday, January 5, 9:40 PM
The mindless debauchery continues.............
BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber blew himself up next to a large group of Shiite pilgrims walking to the holy city of Karbala on Thursday afternoon, killing at least 48 and wounding more than 81, according to a provincial security chief.
The attack came hours after a series of explosions in two Shiite neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital left at least two dozen people dead. The death toll is the largest in a single day since the United States completed its withdrawal of ground troops from Iraq on Dec. 18.
Just before the bombing of the pilgrims, an Iraqi army officer saw the assailant and tried to intervene, said the security chief, Sajad al-Asadi.
The officer attempted to wrap his arms around the bomber and tackle him before he could detonate his explosives. He was killed in the bombing, which occurred near Nasiriyah, about 200 miles south of Baghdad.
Asadi said many of the injured are in serious or critical condition, and he expects the death toll to rise. “We are blaming al-Qaeda,” Asadi said, although no group immediately claimed credit for the attacks. “This is al-Qaeda’s tactic to target Shiite pilgrims.”
In Baghdad, morning explosions killed at least 24 people and injured more than 65, according to security officials. At the same time, a political stand-off between Shiite and Sunni leaders continued Thursday at the Iraqi parliament, with the majority of the Sunni-supported political bloc Iraqiya choosing to boycott the proceedings.
At 7 a.m., an explosives-laden motorcycle blew up near a group of day laborers in Sadr City. Two more bombs were detonated simultaneously near a hospital in the same area, according to Ministry of Interior officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. A total of nine people were killed and 35 injured in those blasts, officials said.
Ninety minutes later, two car bombs exploded near al-Aruba Square in Kadumia City, killing 15 and injuring 31, according to initial reports.
Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, the Baghdad operations command spokesman, told government-run al-Iraqiya television that the blasts targeted innocent civilians. He warned residents that bombings often come in pairs.
“We advise citizens not to gather if they hear the first explosion,” Atta said.
On Dec. 22, during morning rush hour, at least 15 bombs were set off during a two hour period, killing at least 65 people. The Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, later asserted responsibility, announcing on Web forums that the blasts constituted a “Thursday Invasion,” according to translations by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Shia militia ready to return body of kidnapped Briton Alan McMenemy
Foreign Office working 'to bring matter to resolution' after Iranian cleric reveals security guard died in escape bid
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 5 January 2012 19.55 GMT
The body of Alan McMenemy, the British security guard kidnapped in Iraq more than four years ago, will be released without conditions, according to the leader of the Iranian-backed Shia militia that seized him with three other bodyguards – appearing to finally confirm that the Glaswegian has been killed.
McMenemy was kidnapped by Asaib al-Haq (Leagues of Righteousness), along with computer programmer Peter Moore and three employees of the Canadian firm Gardaworld in 2007. Moore was released and the bodies of three security guards were returned in 2009 but McMenemy's fate was unknown, until now.
Qais al-Khazali, a Shia cleric who leads the militia, said the guards were killed in a clash when they tried to escape. "The brothers told me that those four bodyguards tried to escape … they took advantage of a negligent moment and took the weapon of one of their guards and the clash ensued and led to this result. We honestly are sorry for that incident," Khazali told Reuters.
Asked why Asaib had not returned McMenemy's body to his family – which encouraged speculation that the guard was still alive – Khazali said the militia was prepared to hand over the remains unconditionally.
"We have no problem. We have been ready to hand him over for a while. We have no specific demand to hand him over and we have no problem in handing him over. It is a logistical issue," he said.
The Foreign Office said it was "working with the Iraqi authorities and others to bring this matter to resolution".
McMenemy's parents said they had no comment to make yet on what would mark the end of the longest hostage taking involving Britons since the Lebanon kidnappings in the 1980s.
An inquest in 2011 heard that the three other bodyguards – Jason Creswell, Jason Swindlehurst and Alec MacLachlan – were subjected to mock executions, regularly beaten and kept chained and blindfolded for long periods before they were shot dead by their captors.
Last night, Moore told Channel 4 News: "It's obviously going to bring closure to the whole hostage situation of Iraq, in terms of the British side.
"We've been waiting for the body for a long time. When I was released I was told by Qais al-Khazali that the body would be released with me, and obviously that never happened.
"So I've been waiting for the body to be released. It's so long, it's never going to go away from any of our lives. But it is important to move on. We don't have to forget but we have to keep living, and this is the end of the chapter, sort of thing.
"It is the end of the book."
An investigation by Guardian Films revealed that the Shia militia was a front for the Iranian Quds force and the motives for the abduction was retaliation for the arrest of key Iranians in Iraq by the US.
The abduction was also driven by a desire to prevent Moore from installing a sophisticated tracking system that would show how billions of pounds in international aid money from Iraqi institutions were diverted to Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq.
General David Petraeus, then US commander in Iraq, said the men were taken to Iran 24 hours after they were abducted from a finance ministry building in downtown Baghdad.
The Guardian established British special forces were scrambled from Basra to try to intercept the kidnap group and stop them from crossing the border into Iran.
But Khazali told Reuters that Moore "was in another place" at the time of the "clash" that killed him.
Iraq Official: Shiite Militia Will Lay Down Arms
January 06, 2012
Associated Press|by Adam Schreck and Qassim Abdul-Zahra
BAGHDAD - An Iranian-backed Shiite militia that carried out deadly attacks on U.S. troops has agreed to lay down its arms and join the political process, the Iraqi official in charge of reconciling with the country's armed groups said Friday.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's adviser for reconciliation, Amer al-Khuzaie, said the group, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, has not yet turned in its arms but has agreed not to use them anymore. He welcomed the group's decision to play a constructive role in Iraqi politics and said the group plans to run in the next parliamentary elections under a new name.
"They want to join the political process ... and give up armed struggle," al-Khuzaie said. "The government will not buy up the group's weapons, but we are ready to take them if they want us to."
A senior member of Asaib Ahl al-Haq said in an interview this week that the group wants to ally with other Shiite groups to run in provincial and parliamentary elections, but he did not say the group would disarm completely. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the group's plans.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or Band of the Righteous, is an armed group the split off from radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's own political movement that was formed to fight the American presence in Iraq.
It was one of a group of Shiite militias backed by Iran that carried out lethal attacks against U.S. bases in June, the deadliest month in two years for American forces in Iraq.
U.S. troops completed their pullout last month after a nearly nine year war.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq announced its independence from al-Sadr's movement in 2008 and turned down several calls by the cleric to rejoin his group.
Relations between the Sadrists, who are a key component of al-Malikis' Shiite-dominated government, and Asaib Ahl al-Haq remain strained. Al-Sadr recently lashed out at the group's followers, calling them disloyal. He has also accused them of having Iraqi blood on their hands.
If Asaib Ahl al-Haq does organize itself into a more traditional political party, it could damage al-Sadr's own political ambitions and weaken his standing in the coalition government.
Meanwhile, roadside bombs killed two Shiite pilgrims. The blasts were part of a string of explosions in Baghdad on Friday, a day after the country's bloodiest sectarian violence in more than a year left scores dead, officials said.
The new wave of attacks raised fears of a renewal of the widespread Sunni-versus-Shiite bloodshed that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war just a few years ago. While there were no claims of responsibility, attacks against Shiites are typically the work of Sunni insurgents.
At least three roadside bombs exploded in the morning in different parts of the capital, wounding 17 people in addition to the two killed, police and hospital officials said.
They hit Shiite pilgrims making their way toward the sacred city of Karbala for a holy day that draws hundreds of thousands of believers from across Iraq each year.
Several new explosions could be heard around midday. Police said they were rockets and mortar rounds. At least two buildings in northern and central Baghdad were hit, wounding 10 people, police and hospital officials said.
Baghdad military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said some of the projectiles landed outside the capital's heavily protected Green Zone. He said they were intended to disrupt an annual army parade happening within and were a sign that insurgents are trying "to prove their presence."
The police and hospital officials spoke on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to brief the media.
A series of bombings targeting members of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority claimed the lives of at least 78 people on Thursday, marking the second large-scale attack by militants since U.S. forces pulled out last month.
The attacks occurred in the run-up to Arbaeen, a holy day that marks the end of 40 days of mourning following the anniversary of the death of Imam Hussein, a revered Shiite figure. During this time, Shiite pilgrims - many on foot - make their way across Iraq to Karbala, south of Baghdad.
The violence in Iraq comes as the country's main factions are mired in a crisis pitting politicians from the Shiite majority now in power against the Sunni minority, which dominated government under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.
Associated Press writers Bushra Juhi and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Promise of Iraq’s economy remains unfulfilled
By Dan Morse, Monday, January 9, 8:39 AM
BAGHDAD — When the United States invaded Iraq, it did so thinking that it could turn the country into an economic dynamo fueled on oil reserves that are among the largest in the world. “Iraq is open for business,” L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq at the time, said in 2003.
But the fighting never really stopped, and the U.S. vision was never really realized. Now, with American troops gone, the question is: What can Iraq build on its own? So far — with the nation’s leaders locked in a political crisis and insurgents launching spectacular attacks — the signs are not good.
A view of these obstacles, playing out on a smaller scale, can be found behind 10-foot blast walls on the floor of the city’s tiny stock exchange. Investor Saad Jaleel began the year hopeful, buying $1,600 worth of shares in the Iraqi Middle East Investment Bank. But by the third day of trading, watching the market creep down, he stopped.
“People are just waiting and worried, because of the political and security situation,” said Jaleel, 52, a former stationery store owner.
The stock exchange, with only 45 actively traded companies, is hampered by Iraq’s dysfunctional business climate, which, analysts say, lacks adequate laws to govern investments, taxation and property issues. Three massive generators are parked outside the building, keeping the lights running. Just showing up is an act of courage.
Two blocks away are the charred remains and rubble from a Dec. 22 car bombing, which occurred outside a government anti-corruption agency and killed more than a dozen people.
But Jaleel remains bullish about his country and said he will get back to trading this week. “Within three years,” he said, “we will have total change.”
Tough business climate
Iraq sits on an estimated 143 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, according to the World Bank, which recently projected that growing oil exports will boost the country’s gross domestic product by 12 percent this year, among the fastest rates in the world.
But part of that growth reflects dramatic business activity in the country’s semiautonomous Kurdish region. And, more broadly, the challenge for Iraq is that the oil revenue passes through the government, which traditionally hasn’t spent the money well or done enough to diversify the economy, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
Iraq ranks 159 out of 227 countries in per-capita income, according to U.S. government statistics. The World Bank ranks Iraq 164 out of 183 countries in terms of ease of doing business, down five spots from the year before. Corruption rankings, according to Transparency International, are worse.
But rather than try to improve the country’s standing, political leaders in recent weeks have spent their time fighting one another, trading accusations of terrorism and incompetence, moving to consolidate power and boycotting the parliament. The political drama has made it more difficult to do business, with government bureaucrats unsure not only how to process work but also who runs their agencies.
“In Iraq at the moment, you’ve got no idea what is going on,” said a businessman who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
Small merchants say shoppers aren’t spending as much amid uncertainty about what the future holds.
“When the crisis took place and the blasts took place, the people became conservative,” Emad al-Khafaji, a tailor in Baghdad’s Karrada neighborhood, said recently while taking a break from hemming a garment.
Around the corner, other merchants have noticed business slowing since the political crisis and waves of bombs erupted after U.S. troops left Dec. 18. Haider al-Kwaz, 24, works in a family-run shop that sells men’s clothes. He said business has been down 50 percent in the past three weeks. “The owners are sitting in front of their stores like they are sitting in front of their houses,” Kwaz said.
‘A lot of uncertainty’
Violence took a sharply sectarian turn Thursday, when a suicide bomber killed 48 Shiite pilgrims walking to the holy city of Karbala and explosions killed 24 people in Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad. If such attacks continue, the slowdown the merchants are feeling “could become worse in a hurry,” said Anthony H. Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and author of a recent paper titled “The Broader Crisis in Iraq.”
Hussain al-Shahristani, the country’s deputy prime minister for energy affairs, said the government is committed to diversifying its oil wealth into new areas of the economy — and doing so through real democracy.
“People in this part of the world have been told that they have to choose between freedom or prosperity,” Shahristani said. “In Iraq, we are determined to prove them wrong.”
He said that power plants are under construction and that more oil will be exported through a tanker terminal set to open this year. As for political disputes and bombings, he said they have had little effect on foreign oil companies.
“If they have complaints, it’s not about the political debate or the bombings in Baghdad or elsewhere, it’s about some bureaucracy at seaports, at custom clearances, visa applications and so on,” Shahristani said. “We have come a long way, but still the companies expect speedier procedures, and I do fully agree with them.”
British insurance executive Jonathan Biles founded Iraq Gate Insurance Brokers in Baghdad in 2009, with policies that cover construction liability, kidnapping and ransom, among other areas. He takes the long view of economic development in Iraq.
“If you had a one-year plan, you would never come,” he said. “If you had a three-year plan, you would be constantly weeping. If you have a five-year plan, you may just be thinking things were going OK. But with a 20-year plan, it has to work.”
Still, as foreign companies weigh investing here, Biles said he worries that they will look at recent events and go elsewhere: “Money looks at the whole world, and money doesn’t like uncertainty. And, right now, you’ve got of lot of uncertainty in Iraq. Will this uncertainty hamper investment in the new Iraq? I suspect it will.”
Trading amid bad news
At Rabee Securities, located two blocks from the Iraq Stock Exchange, the blast last month blew out windows and caved in parts of the ceiling.
One of Rabee’s traders, Tamara Hussain, lost her sister in the explosion. She worked as a lawyer for the government’s anti-corruption agency.
But Hussain was back at work in the new year. “I can’t stay at home and see my mother crying all the time,” she said from her desk at Rabee’s repaired offices. “I try not to think about the bomb.”
Down the hall, a half-dozen investors requested trades from Rabee brokers, who made the transactions over laptop computers. Electrical engineer Saeed Dharhi, 58, wants to buy bank shares. But as the market slipped this year, he has not purchased any stocks. “Bad news in politics and explosions,” he said.
Analysis: Iraq's Plight Imperils US Goals
January 09, 2012
Associated Press|by Bradley Klapper
WASHINGTON - Iraq's troubled start to life without U.S. forces calls into question the Obama administration's assertion that it has wound down America's long war responsibly: at least 78 killed in blasts across the country in a single day last week, a protracted political crisis with no end in sight, top political leaders accusing each other of monstrous criminality.
An extension of the costly and unpopular deployment of American troops to Iraq may have only temporarily suppressed some of the tensions, but the heightened violence and political dysfunction illustrate the unfinished business the United States has left behind in Iraq. Nine years after American proponents of intervention predicted a cakewalk, a welcome mat and Iraqis singing and flying kites in a shining example of democracy for the Arab world, the U.S. is still struggling to finish the job.
It is unclear how much more help Iraq wants, either. Last month's send-off of the last U.S. soldiers was inauspiciously followed by Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordering an arrest warrant for the country's highest-ranking Sunni official, threatening to exclude the rival sect's main political party from his government and warning of "rivers of blood" if Sunnis sought an autonomous region.
The Obama administration is defending the military withdrawal from Iraq, after the two countries were unable to agree on whether American troops should be granted legal immunity. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in an interview aired Sunday that "periodic acts of violence" in Iraq, like those seen recently, are not new and that the thousands of U.S. civilians working there can be safe under Iraqi protection.
"We're confident that we have an Iraqi government and an Iraqi security force that is capable of dealing with the security threats that are there now," Panetta told CBS "Face the Nation."
But President Barack Obama's decision is being attacked by critics during an election year.
"In all due respect, Iraq is unraveling. It's unraveling because we did not keep residual forces there," said Arizona Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain also spoke on CBS.
Leading U.S. efforts, the State Department got $6.2 billion in Iraq funds for the year. Some $3.8 billion is for the department's operations, including for the deployment of several hundred diplomats, civil service experts and specialists in fields from agriculture and commerce to health and education. Hundreds more are needed for management, logistics and security support in a land still wracked by violence. Thousands of security contractors are also being employed. The Defense Department got an additional $11 billion to wrap up military operations and fund a leftover contingent of advisers and officials.
The total is a small amount against the backdrop of $1.3 trillion spent on Afghanistan and Iraq over the last decade. Yet it belies any notion that the U.S. and Iraq can easily - or cheaply - "normalize" a relationship that has more often than not been nonexistent over the last four decades.
In Baghdad, the Vatican-sized American Embassy stands like a city within a city, a reminder of the previous administration's ambitious vision of an ironclad U.S.-Iraqi alliance based on shared interests, peace and democracy. By far the biggest such U.S. outpost overseas and costing several hundred million dollars, the danger is it ends up being a symbol of U.S. isolation, its diplomats ensconced safely inside but unable to influence events beyond the fortress walls.
The Obama administration has maintained some of the optimistic Bush-era rhetoric for its vision of the future, while acknowledging that much depends on solving Iraq's immediate problems. When al-Maliki teamed up with Muqtada al-Sadr's hardline Shiite supporters, it guaranteed him the prime minister's office. The U.S. secured a role for Ayad Allawi's Sunni-led bloc after it won the most parliamentary seats, but key decisions on the legislation for the power-sharing arrangement were pushed off. Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries were similarly left for later. Now is later.
One legacy of the occupation that costs money to maintain but could be a key diplomatic tool is the distribution of American diplomats throughout the country. Instead of having all U.S. personnel pooled in the capital, and all its engagement efforts directed solely toward the prime minister and other central government leaders, Washington can simultaneously press the Kurds in the North and Sunnis and Shia at the regional level. While Vice President Joe Biden mobilizes his years of personal relationship with Iraq's political elite at the very top, officials staff consulates in Basra, Irbil and, since Christmas, Kirkuk.
The administration wants to begin lowering costs in Iraq further. The plan envisions local staff replacing Americans in security and logistics, and more food and fuel purchased on local markets. The shift would depend on a more peaceful environment prevailing and the country embarking on a surer democratic path.
But the challenge remains: Can the U.S., with its limited capacity to shape events in Iraq, help forge a culture of nation in a place that may remain too deeply divided among themselves? Al-Maliki's arrest warrant against Sunni Vice President and longtime critic Tariq al-Hashemi for allegedly organizing assassinations leaves the country divided at the upper echelons of government. If the schism reaches down to street level, Iraq risks sliding back toward the civil war-like violence of 2006 and 2007.
Administration officials acknowledge that Iraq is mired in its worst government crisis since Saddam Hussein's 2003 ouster, with no obvious answers for a political landscape crisscrossed by long-standing sectarian and regional rivalries, and newer schisms borne out of political maneuvering. The task is Iraq's now, they insist, with the U.S. only assisting. The main effort right now is focused on pressing Iraq's factional leaders into a meeting of the blocs, but even that first tentative step toward a possible breakthrough remains out of reach.
Getting each party to share in the dibs of power remains the conundrum. Almost two years after Iraq's last elections, and a year since the U.S. helped cobble together a government led by al-Maliki's Shiites and including a Sunni-backed bloc, the parties have yet to agree on who will lead the powerful police and military ministries. America may still wield influence, but it is waning.
For weeks, Washington has pushed hard behind the scenes to bring all sides back to negotiations and salvage Iraq's unity government. The U.S. feeling is that most political parties, unsure of how to solve their crisis themselves, still want America's counsel. Officials say leaders in Iraq know the U.S. remains the country's gateway to a world beyond Iran, and much needed international trade, investment and political support.
But without even a semblance of boots and guns on the ground, the stark truth that Washington hasn't been calling the shots for a while in Iraq has become even more apparent. American advice clearly wasn't heeded as Iraq's stability deteriorated after the U.S. forces departed on Dec. 18.
The administration isn't giving up hope and, frankly it says, it can't: partnership with an instable and democratically imperfect but oil-rich nation on Iran's doorstep is too valuable to abandon. However, getting there isn't cheap. A sense of responsibility also pervades, after a U.S.-led military intervention that sparked fierce internecine warfare and a deadly stream of terror attacks that has yet to be eliminated.
Thursday's bombings, presumably by al-Qaida, are a case in point. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Thursday called them "desperate attempts by the same kind of folk who have been active in Iraq, trying to turn back the clock." On the government impasse, she said American officials from Biden on down were actively "trying to support the Iraqis in settling their disputes peacefully through political means."
The doubts over Iraq are prompting more in Iraq and the U.S. to question whether there will be a time when Washington asks itself why it is bothering with a huge diplomatic outreach, especially if Iraq's splintered leadership isn't interested in listening. Some analysts are looking for more realistic, if narrower, U.S. goals and a clearer strategy to achieve them.
"The question now is whether Iraq is going to be a place for stability or instability, will it be a place where bad guys can do bad things, or a place with 30 million people and huge resources that is secure in its borders and helps stabilize the region," said Jon Alterman, Middle East director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "We don't know the answer yet."
© Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Al-Qaeda-linked group asserts responsibility for 37 Baghdad attacks
By Dan Morse, Tuesday, January 10, 1:33 AM
BAGHDAD — A terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda has asserted responsibility for 37 recent attacks in Iraq’s capital, including what the organization called a failed attempt to assassinate the prime minister, as violence continued throughout the country Monday.
The latest attacks — targeting Shiite pilgrims, police officers, at least one army officer and a bank executive — heightened fears in a country reeling from a series of bombings in the wake of the departure of U.S. troops last month. Iraq also remains locked in a political crisis, a large part of it being played out along sectarian lines.
On Monday, five people were killed and 32 were injured in a car bombing outside a Shiite mosque in Baghdad, according to security officials speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. A blast 30 minutes earlier killed seven people and injured 19 in the capital, the officials said.
Also, the chairman of a private bank and her husband were fatally shot inside their garage by men with silencer-equipped pistols, the officials said.
On Monday evening, two bombs blew up near a federal police patrol in Baghdad’s Jasr Diala neighborhood, injuring three officers and three civilians, security officials said. About the same time, a bomb exploded under a car in the city’s al-Qahera neighborhood, wounding two men.
To the west of Baghdad, in the Fallujah area, a soldier was killed and three others were injured near a military base when a bomb exploded under his vehicle. And a member of the Sons of Iraq, a group of Sunni fighters who helped U.S. troops battle forces of the organization al-Qaeda in Iraq, was killed in a blast near the gate of his house, said Lt. Col. Najim al-Dulaimi, a spokesman for Anbar province’s operations command.
South of Baghdad, attacks continued against at least two groups of Shiite pilgrims. One person was killed and at least 22 were injured, according to security officials.
Othman al-Ghanimi, head of the middle Euphrates operations command, said forces stopped an explosives-laden car and arrested the driver, who was carrying a special badge authorizing him to enter the holy city of Karbala, where the pilgrims are headed.
It was not clear whether anyone had asserted responsibility for the Monday attacks.
But the earlier attacks were the work of the Islamic State of Iraq, the al-Qaeda affiliate asserted on Internet message forums, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a monitoring service.
The group said that on Nov. 28, a bomber exploited a security “loophole” in Baghdad’s Green Zone and drove an explosives-laden vehicle inside with the intent of striking Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to SITE. But the vehicle detonated prematurely outside the parliament building, the SITE report said.
The Islamic State of Iraq also asserted responsibility for a Dec. 26 bombing outside Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which houses the country’s internal security forces, and for a wave of bombings in Baghdad on Dec. 22. The group said the attacks were carried out as revenge for the detention of Sunnis in Shiite prisons, according to SITE.
Iskander Witwit, a ranking member of the parliament’s security and defense committee, cautioned against accepting the terrorist group’s assertions of responsibility for the bombing outside parliament. He said officials continue to investigate the attack.
Ali Hadi al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Maliki, said the prime minister was targeted because he is committed to “the destruction of al-Qaeda.”
He added that al-Qaeda in Iraq “may perpetrate crimes, but that will only increase the unity of the Iraqi people.” Moussawi said lapses in Green Zone security have been addressed.
The terrorist group has bragged in its Internet postings about its ability “to penetrate the complicated military and security complex of the fortified Green Zone, which the Crusader enemy had spent billions upon,” according to SITE.
Referring to the November attack, the terrorists said that in “His wisdom,” God intervened as the driver was on the way to Maliki’s office by “creating a specific defect so that the vehicle exploded while it was parked behind the entrance of the parliament, causing the death and wounding of many people,” according to SITE.
Sterling Jensen, who studies the Islamic State of Iraq at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, said the group is targeting Shiites to create the impression that it is defending Sunnis. “It is a sign they want sectarian violence to increase,” he said.
Joost Hiltermann, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa program at the International Crisis Group, said “it’s too early to tell” whether the organization is getting stronger. The group is Sunni-based, motivated by a hatred of Shiite power and Iran, and it sees Iran as controlling Iraq’s government, Hiltermann said.
The terrorists are trying to instigate Iraqi security forces to strike back against the country’s Sunni population — igniting a full-scale sectarian war, he said.
“They want to create a chaotic situation,” Hiltermann added.
Special correspondents Aziz Alwan and Asaad Majeed in Baghdad contributed to this report.
Suicide bomber kills 53 Shiite pilgrims near Basra
By Dan Morse and Aziz Alwan, Updated: Saturday, January 14, 8:30 PM
There is a bomb-maker or three that seriously need to be slotted somewhere in Iraq................
BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber detonated himself among a group of Shiite pilgrims Saturday morning near the southern Iraqi city of Basra, killing at least 53 in the latest attack against Shiite civilians walking to shrines in recent days, according to security officials.
The blast, which injured another 137, comes as sectarian tensions already are rising in Iraq amid a national political crisis between Shiite and Sunni leaders and previous bombings in both Shiite and Sunni areas.
At 10:45 a.m. Saturday, the man, disguised in a military uniform, struck five miles west of Basra, which is about 360 miles southeast of Baghdad. Many of the wounded are in “very critical” condition, said Lt. Col. Jassim Lefta, a provincial police official. Among those killed were eight women and three children, Lefta said.
The lieutenant colonel said surviving pilgrims accused the police of not protecting them well enough. Iraqi army soldiers arrived to try to prevent further attacks, Lefta said.
Dr. Riyad Abdulameer, a leading health official in the Basra province, put the number of dead at 53.
Iraqi police killed in insurgent attack on government compound
Seven officers killed as suspected Sunni insurgents detonate car bomb and storm prison for terror suspects in Ramadi
Associated Press in Baghdad
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 15 January 2012 15.52 GMT
People inspect the scene of a car bomb attack in front of a government compound in Ramadi, Iraq. Photograph: AP
Seven policemen have been killed after gunmen detonated a car bomb and blasted their way into a government compound in the one-time Sunni insurgent area of Ramadi, police and officials said.
A three-hour standoff between Shia-dominated Iraqi security forces and suspected Sunni insurgents in the Anbar province capital, 70 miles (115km) west of Baghdad, was the first serious gun battle for Iraqi forces without American backup since the US military completed its withdrawal last month.
Violence has surged since US troops left, including a sectarian bombing on Saturday that killed more than 50 pilgrims during a Shia procession and attacks against the government.
The violence has raised concerns Iraq may return to the sectarian bloodshed that killed tens of thousands of civilians after the US-led invasion and brought the country to the brink of civil war just a few years ago.
On Sunday morning, five gunmen wearing military uniforms and explosive vests stormed a compound in Ramadi, two police officials said. The compound houses Ramadi police headquarters and several federal security agencies, including an anti-terrorism police taskforce and a detention facility where terrorism suspects are interrogated.
Before reaching the compound in central Ramadi, the gunmen set off acar bomb in the eastern part of the city in an apparent effort to draw security personnel from the heavily guarded government area, according to an Anbar government official. Comrades of the attackers were being held there on suspicion of involvement in terror attacks.
One policeman was killed and three others were injured in the blast, police and health officials said.
"There were explosions in other parts of Ramadi meant to attract the attention of police and engage them, because there was a bigger aim of the attackers, which was to occupy the main police station," Dhari Arkan, the deputy governor of Anbar, told the Associated Press.
An army officer in the Ramadi operations centre said several suspected insurgents were being held in the detention facility with criminals and thieves. The makeshift prison is in the basement of the building the attackers stormed, the officer said.
Sadoun Obaid al-Jumaily, deputy president of the Anbar provincial council, said the five gunmen drove to the entrance of the compound. Four got out of the car and clashed with police, al-Jumaily said. Security forces killed two attackers, while two managed to get into the building where the suspected insurgents were being held.
"They came to free their colleagues," al-Jumaily said, adding that two gunmen got to the roof of the building and were killed after an hour-long fight with security forces.
Six policemen were killed in the gunfight and 13 others were wounded, al-Jumaily said. Officials at Ramadi's main hospital confirmed the death toll.
More than 145 people have been killed in attacks since the start of the year. Most of the latest attacks appear to be aimed at Iraq's majority Shias, suggesting Sunni insurgents seeking to undermine the Shia-dominated government are to blame.
On Saturday, a bomb tore through a procession of Shia pilgrims heading toward the largely Sunni town of Zubair in southern Iraq, killing at least 53 people and wounding at least 130 other in the latest sign of a power struggle between rival Muslim sects.
Iraqi forces battle gunmen who stormed government compound in Ramadi
Attack blamed on Sunni insurgents in west is first serious test for Iraq since withdrawal of US troops last month
Associated Press in Baghdad
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 15 January 2012 13.34 GMT
Iraqis look at a destroyed vehicle close to a mosque in Ramadi. Insurgents carried out a wave of bomb attacks before storming a police compound in the western Iraqi city. Photograph: Azhar Shallal/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi security forces are battling gunmen who stormed a government compound in Ramadi, a one-time Sunni insurgent hotbed in the country's west, police officials said.
The standoff on Sunday between Iraqi Shia-dominated security forces and suspected Sunni insurgents in the capital of the Anbar province, marks the first serious gun battle for Iraqi forces against insurgents since the US military withdrew last month.
Five gunmen wearing military uniforms and bomb vests stormed the compound in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, on Sunday morning.
The complex is the HQ of the Ramadi police and of several federal security agencies, including an anti-terrorism taskforce.
It also houses a detention facility where terrorism suspects are held and interrogated.
Police said at least one of the attackers detonated his explosives at the entrance to the compound, as four others shot their way in.
Security forces reportedly surrounded the building and were exchanging fire with the gunmen. There were no other reports of casualties.
Violence has soared in Iraq since the last US troops left the country almost a month ago after nine years of war.
Most of the latest attacks appear to be aimed at Iraq's majority Shias, suggesting Sunni insurgents seeking to undermine the Shia-dominated government are to blame.
More than 145 people have been killed in attacks since the start of the year.
On Saturday, a bomb tore through a procession of Shia pilgrims heading toward the largely Sunni town of Zubair in southern Iraq, killing at least 53 and wounding 130 more in the latest sign of a power struggle between rival Muslim sects.
Fears of further bloodshed have risen in recent weeks, with the US no longer enjoying the leverage it once had to encourage the two sides to work together to rein in extremists.
Saturday's blast happened on the last of the 40 days of Arbaeen, when hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims travel to the Iraqi city of Karbala and other holy sites.